New York is always a good place to visit if someone wants to hear good jazz – but January is special, as people from all over the world come for the Jazz Connect Conference and APAP, as well as Winter Jazz, which has grown to a showcase festival for amazing new and established talent in improvised music. Reason enough for me to go there for many years now and this year was no exception: in short – 2 days of running around a lot, but incredible music and I saw and heard only a small part of what was on offer …
I arrived on Wednesday afternoon and after a long flight all I needed was some cool music and Kurt Elling at Birdland was the one to deliver that. He is always great listening to and never have I heard a dull concert when he performs .. and Birdland was no exception: mostly repertoire from Passion World, his recent album, with the amazing Samurai Cowboy thrown in and a new song in the repertoire by Carla Bley for which he wrote lyrics … impressive.
The next day meeting from morning to evening … then gladly a dinner with friends and business partners (best combination) and off to the next gig: the new Joshua Redman band at the Jazz Standard. They call themselves Still Dreaming and are a tribute to the group Old And New Dreams, which Dewey Redman founded with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell as a tribute to the music of Ornette Coleman, in the mid 70’s. I was lucky enough to see these original guys perform in the late 70’s and always was a fan of the music of this group – therefore I was pleasantly surprised to see Joshua with Ron Miles, Scott Colley and Brian Blade slipping easily into the spirit of the original band and playing music on an immense level and with deep intensity. Their own compositions as well as songs from Old And New Dreams and of course compositions of Ornette – perfectly done. This quartet is like a re-incarnation of the original, taking the music into today. When they finished their set with Ornette’s Happy House is was simply in jazz heaven … marvellous!!
January 15th the Festival started with the first day of the jazz marathon … after another day of meetings and a panel at the Jazz Connect Conference I was looking forward to see a few gigs that day – starting with James Brandon Lewis, who performed at the Zinc Bar with his trio featuring Luke Stewart on bass and Warren ‘Trae’ Crudrup on drums. What makes James so special is the intensity of his improvisations and the melodic approach he has. Powerful and imaginative, but within the essence of the songs he performed – mostly from his recent album Days Of FreeMan – especially that nights version of Don Cherry’s Bamako Love was touching and full of rough emotions. A great trio, worth checking out.
Next was Korean singer Youn Sun Nah, who has already made a name in most of Europe, but not yet in the US – as I like her records, but never had seen her perform and I was looking forward to it and it was simply impressive: partly alone, partly with the incredible guitarist Ulf Wakenius, her simple approach to the song material was stunning and effective – from standards to Randy Newman to Korean folk songs – her voice and personality carried the performance – very impressive, very special!
On recommendation of a producer I met at Youn Sun Nah’s gig I went with him and his wife to see a bit of Banda Magda, whom I didn’t know before – lead by singer, accordionist, pianist etc Magda Giannikou (who has performed frequently with Snarky Puppy) their music is a powerful mix of Greek folk music, jazz and Latin influences – very cool!
But I had to leave after a few songs as I wanted to hear young trumpet star Theo Croker performing material from his forthcoming OKeh record Escape Velocity …. Theo’s band DVRK FUNK featuring Kassa Overall on drums, Anthony Ware, saxes; Michael King, keys; Eric Wheeler, bass and Ben Munson on guitar, was on fire – the new songs are great and modern, swing and rock and the new ballad Because of You is simply incredible. The Bitter End was packed – a young and hip crowd did come to check Theo out – and they got something they enjoyed: intense music, great grooves and beautiful melodies – some hot trumpet playing by the leader, who is on the way to become a true star. No problem to hang around until 3 am with music that cool!
Day 2 of the marathon started with warming up in the afternoon at the Gail Boyd Mgmt. and Karen Kennedy 24Seven Artist Development showcases – young violinist Scott Texier impressed with a beautiful sound and a great performance; Jen Shyu’s performance was deep and powerful, but for me in the wrong place – this is very theatrical in visual and musical terms and the venue just didn’t her justice; Tillery – wow! The trio of Becca Stevens, Gretchen Parlato and Rebecca Martin performed 4 songs from their new and forthcoming album and it was pure magic! Vocal harmonies and beautiful melodies, simplicity with a focus on the voices – touching, emotional and truly special. I hope to see them when come on tour in support of the new album – this is just the best vocal performance of a group in ages!
Sax player J.D. Allen just did one song with his group – enough to make it clear that he is one of the most talented improvisers around and for me together with James Brandon Lewis the future of this instrument. And finally Somi, who as always did a great show, singing impeccable with great support from her band. She is just such a personality on stage, powerful, but at the same time vulnerable when she is singing about the fate of African women ….the songs of this showcase came all from The Lagos Music Salon, as the new ,material she is working on for her next record is not yet ready to be performed – can’t wait to hear the new songs soon.
Dinner and then off to see Becca Stevens at Rockwood 3 – she brought her band and some special guests – I never have seen her doing her own material, just seen her opening the London Jazz festival with a few songs by other, or with Taylor Eigsti – so this was it – it how good it was ! She is a star in the making – great voice, great performance and great compositions. Beautiful the song she performed with Jakob Collier and perfect the rest! Loved every minute of it!
To end these crazy days of amazing music I went to see Julian Lage with his trio featuring Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums = great show. I think Julian is the best of the young guitarist and he proved this again here – amazing playing from all three guys with Julian leading the way with jazz and rock tinged licks, backed up by one of the best rhythm sections around. The many musicians in the venue did enjoy this gig as much as I did – screaming and endless applause showed for it. Julian will be on European tour in March with the Trio album out by then – don’t miss it!
Now resting to get ready for next year !